When I first started performing at Passover programs in the Miami area I was left with a problem. Some of the offers were right after Seders and I wasn’t sure where to go. Enter my friend Michelle Gorin Andron, who at the time worked as a teacher next door to the classroom where I was an assistant. I still had the “day job” and hadn’t started doing standup full time. “Come to my family in Miami! You’ll love it!” Michelle and her husband Ben lived in my neighborhood and were the young couple who always had people over for Shabbat dinner. When they told us they were moving to the valley due to their growing family, we all vehemently protested. Aside from Michelle being one of the best cooks in the LA area, a gift she inherited from her mother Helga, we felt like we were all losing two close friends. We would always compete as to who got to collapse on Ben and Michelle’s couch after dinner.
I went to Miami not knowing what to expect, but Michelle had warned me that the Gorin clan, hailing from Colombia, was pretty big and the average Shabbat meal for her growing up, let alone Passover Seder, numbered in the 40 person range and up. There was also a lot of Spanish so I may not understand everything, but she said it wouldn’t matter, and she was right. As people began to arrive, they made me feel like part of the family in about 5 seconds. I remember a cousin who must have been about 5 or 6 years old, went down the line hugging everyone and when she got to me, paused not knowing who I was, then simply hugged me too, to uproarious laughter from everyone in the room including me. That’s the kind of family the Gorins are. That’s also where I first met Michelle’s father, Mendy.
Mendy and I hit it off immediately, not surprising since he hit it off with everyone. Mendy was a Chabad Chasid, and me being descended from a long line of Misnagdim, literally “those who oppose” — and we oppose Chasidim — gave me a perfect opportunity for some fun ribbing. Mendy smiled at my absurd critiques which always made me smile as well. I became friendly with numerous members of Michelle’s family including her two sisters, and even their husbands over the years. Michelle’s sister Stephanie remains one of my favorite people to verbally abuse to this day, and she gives as good as she gets. Even her youngest sister Jayme along with her husband Michael, are both the kind of people who would give you the shirts of their backs. Jayme is pretty religious though, so probably not a good example in her case. That Mendy and his wife Helga had raised such impressive daughters (except Stephanie of course… I just can’t resist) was clearly a testament to the kind of people they were.
It was obvious to me that this group was all about family. The synagogue they attend is about a 15-20 minute walk and not surprisingly, Mendy, being a leader in the community, helped build it. I walked with Mendy and his quiet disposition was just so pleasant to be around, over the years I began to look forward to the walks almost as much as any other part of being in Miami. It got to the point that if I was offered a job the first night of Passover after the Seders and it wasn’t in the Miami area, I would turn it down because I couldn’t spend Passover with the Gorins. One year I performed throughout Europe and had no choice but to spend the holiday overseas and it sucked in comparison.
Mendy would always give me an aliyah in shul and even remembered my Hebrew name when he would call me up. He was just that kind of guy. I remember one year when Stephanie called me to do a fundraiser for a very small yeshiva day school, so I went and the setup was pretty chaotic. No one was paying attention when I was performing, people were walking around, talking etc. Mendy walked right up in front of me and stood there trying to listen. I’ll never forget that. Mendy made it a point to listen when no one else would. One thing I also noticed about Mendy is that I never saw him angry. Ever. Not once. I don’t even remember him raising his voice. For someone like me who always tries to work on that, Mendy was the example of how to behave.
A few years ago Mendy got cancer and the walks turned into him being in a wheelchair. I got to spend less time with him as there were now more grandkids vying for his attention, and various family members pushing him along. One thing I did notice was something Mendy didn’t do, complain. It was beyond obvious he was in pain but never discussed it, or if he did I certainly never heard it. He’s the kind of guy who cared about others so much, he didn’t want them to worry about him. Just like not getting angry or raising his voice, it was what Mendy didn’t do that I learned from the most. Mendy died this past Thursday right after Yom Kippur.
It’s strange. Here was a guy I saw once, maybe twice a year and he had a profound impact on how I should view things, without speaking about it, but by acting it. I’ve had other friends lose parents and while always sad, this one stood out.
There are things in my life I know I’ll look back on and miss, summer camp, little league, family or friends who have come in and out of my life, and the list could go on. It’s hard to rank one over the other. When all is said and done though, when I look back, one of the things I know will shoot right to the top of that list, will be my walks with Mendy.